Last week, the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections and Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit released a new report entitled The Price of Prison: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers.
The report analyzed data from 40 states, estimating the total price American taxpayers paid in 2010 to fund corrections budgets, employee benefits, capital costs and healthcare services for inmates.
The study projects that taxpayers paid almost $39 billion in the 2010 FY, which was more than $5 billion more than what the official corrections budgets originally projected.
According to the report, Americans paid almost $2 billion to fund retiree health care programs for corrections employees, with another $1.5 billion going to fund state contributions to retiree health care and employee benefits, including health insurance.
The report also factored in a number of other costs outside state corrections’ budgets that were funded by public dollars, including inmate services, legal judgments and claims, private facility costs and overlapping statewide administrative costs.
According to the report, 21 of the 40 state surveyed did not pay the full cost of annual pension contributions to corrections personnel in the 2010 FY, while 30 did not pay the full cost of retiree health care obligations.
The report notes that the percentage of prison costs outside individual state’s corrections budgets fluctuated, with Arizona and Connecticut at 1 percent and 34 percent, respectively, representing the polar ends of the 40 states surveyed.
The study, which was produced in coordination with the Pew Center on the State’s Public Safety Performance Project, stated that the average per-inmate cost for American taxpayers was a little more than $31,000 annually, with Kentucky ($14,603) and New York ($60,076) having the lowest and highest 2010 FY numbers.
“Perhaps more than ever, it is necessary to know the real price of our choices, be those in education, health care or criminal justice policies,” said Center on Sentencing and Corrections Director Peggy McGarry.
“Knowing the taxpayer cost of any public policy option is important – especially now,” she continued. “But it is just as important to examine and weigh those costs against the benefits they promise to deliver.”